Home > Brian's Blogs, New Perspective on Paul, Pastoral Ministry, Theology > Preaching and the New Perspective on Paul

Preaching and the New Perspective on Paul

I was planning on moving away from this topic for a while, but then my Co-Pastor and friend Andrew asked a question that others have asked: how does the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) apply to our preaching and the average person sitting in the pew on Sunday? In other words, is the NPP merely an academic debate? What is its relevance?

I do believe that NPP is very relevant for all Christians, both “clergy” and “laity” (I hesitate to use these dualistic Christian terms, but you get my point):

  1. It’s about understanding God’s Word. All Christians must be students of God’s Word. Scripture provides the foundation for true humanity (imaging Jesus Christ) and provides the foundation for true preaching (revealing Jesus Christ). Therefore, if NPP moves us closer to the true intention of the text, then we must listen and apply! Even though I have not accepted everything NPP, studying this debate has helped me be a better student of Scripture.
  2. It’s about understanding our heritage. Too many Christians live in a historical bubble (history begins with the day we were born). Unfortunately, this means that we are often isolated from the people of God who have lived before us, including the Old Testament people of God. We suffer from an extreme ignorance of the Old Testament and its theology. I blame this on many forms of dispensationalism and many preachers who fail to teach from the Old Testament. Because the New Perspective on Paul is in reality a New Perspective on Judaism, we can learn a lot about our theological roots from this discussion. And like #1, anything that helps us understand the OT better will help us become better Christians and teachers (especially teachers of the NT!).
  3. It’s about making Romans and Galatians relevant. NPP claims that Paul was not countering legalism but a self-righteousness that insisted upon certain behavior (“works of the law”) to prove that you were in fact a Christian. In other words, Paul was reacting against those who believe that only people with certain “marks” are truly Christian. I believe that this is very relevant because Paul wasn’t countering legalism, he was countering fundamentalism!! Today Paul would attack those who say: you can’t drink and be a Christian, you can’t smoke and be a Christian, you can’t wear jeans to church and be a Christian, you can’t use drums in the Christian church, you can’t…you can’t…you can’t. Similarly, today Paul would attack those who say: you must use the King James Version to be a Christian, you must play the organ or acoustic guitar to be a Christian church, or (to really challenge us baptists) you must be baptized to be a member of a church (ouch!!). The reality is, there aren’t a lot of legalists in our churches. There are, however, a lot of fundamentalists (including pastors). This is rubber-meets-the-road-relevant-Christianity!!
  4. It’s in the academy now but it will come to the pews. I realize that most Christians in America don’t realize there is a New Perspective on Paul. I realize that most Christians in America don’t care if there is a New Perspective on Paul. But debates in the academy do “trickle-down” (for lack of a better term) to our pulpits. Having a book by John Piper will speed up this trickle-down process. And, like Piper, a lot of people will have a big problem with an overhaul in Pauline theology, so we’d better know what is going on.

So there you have it. Maybe this will end my series on the New Perspective on Paul.

  1. lpkalal
    December 4, 2007 at 5:39 pm

    As briefly as possible, what is the NPP?

  2. December 4, 2007 at 9:06 pm

    Hi Brian. I’ve been reading your articles on the NPP. Great stuff.

    Here, just to be clear on wording, what do you mean by “fundamentalism”? How is that different from “legalism”? Thanks.


  3. brianmcl
    December 5, 2007 at 10:13 am

    The Traditional Perspective on Paul (my phrase) believes that when Paul wrote Romans and Galatians he was attacking Jewish legalists (those who attempt to earn salvation by works). The New Perspective on Paul (NPP) believes that Judaism is not legalistic, but believes in their election by God’s grace. Therefore, they believe that we have read Galatians and Romans wrong ever since the time of Martin Luther. There are some pretty significant conclusions. See previous posts where I attempt to summarize the debate.

    I define legalism as an attempt to earn salvation by works (“you must do this in order to be saved”). This is how Luther viewed the Roman Catholic Church and how he read Galatians and Romans. I use the term fundamentalism not in its original sense (“holding to the fundamentals of the faith”) in its more recent pejorative sense. To quote Marsden, “a fundamentalist is an evangelical who is angry about something.” They do not believe in earning salvation, but they are so strict in their practice of faith (“Christians don’t smoke!”) that it has the same effect. The Pharisees who weighed people down with their laws were fundamentalists.

    Does that response help either of you???

  4. December 5, 2007 at 2:51 pm
  5. lpkalal
    December 5, 2007 at 10:41 pm

    Not sure I understand. Maybe Paul wasn’t dealing with Jewish legalists in Galatians, but it seems he was dealing with SOME form of legalism. What do the pundits say?

  6. December 6, 2007 at 5:01 pm

    Yes, thanks with the clarification.

    *Heads back into a think tank*

  7. brianmcl
    December 7, 2007 at 4:02 pm

    lpkalal…check out my new post titled “Another Perspective on the New Perspective.” I think this lays out the foundational issues pretty well. As for the pundits…many continue to deny it (such as Piper), but it is increasing in popularity.

  8. lpkalal
    December 9, 2007 at 12:48 am

    My husband just bought Piper’s response to Wright (after I asked him what he knew about NPP). I’ll let him fill me in, but so far, I am way on the side of Piper.

  9. December 12, 2007 at 3:54 am

    Oh, I meant “Thanks FOR the clarification.”

    I am rereading your comment: Brian, do you mean that “fundamentalists” ā€“ as you use the word ā€“ add to the fundamentals of salvation? So the issue, as I understand it, is not whether these people are legalists, who depend strictly on following the Law, but the issue is what are the true fundamentals of being a Christian. Thus, in the case of Romans and Galatians, the “Fundamentalists” were arguing that the true “mark” of a Christian is circumcision.

    I hope I’m following your train of thought so far. However, I thought that the controversy was in the so-called impution of righteousness. That part always seemed to confuse me, but I haven’t really looked into NT Wright’s writings too deeply, just skimmed cursorly. Thanks for the article again.

  10. brianmcl
    December 12, 2007 at 10:13 am


    I think that is right…they are adding to the fundamentals of the faith. Paul believes that the one fundamental is “faith in Christ.” That is the cornerstone and that is the only mark of being a Christian. The Jewish Fundamentalists wanted to add a “mark”, the mark of circumcision. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head!!! (that is, at least from a New Perspective point of view, John Piper may disagree a little).

  1. December 6, 2007 at 10:13 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: